A ‘bottomless chessboard’ with ‘no meaning beyond itself’?
More radically than Heidegger and Gadamer, it is Jacques Derrida who deconstructs metaphysical assumptions about origins, foundations, and transcendence. Derrida would opt for the interpretive practice ‘which is no longer turned toward the origin, affirms play and tries to pass beyond man and humanism, the name of man being the name of that being who … throughout his entire history – has dreamed of full presence, the reassuring foundation, the origin and the end of play’. He offers the metaphor of a ‘bottomless chessboard’, to which ‘there is no meaning beyond itself, no deep, underlying ground that supports it and speaks through it’. The difference between Eliot and Derrida is that whereas Derrida affirms the endless regression and play of interpretation Eliot, with his acute sense of the element of error in all interpretation, doe not. His vision, in his early philosophical work, may have approximated to that of Derrida’s ‘bottomless chessboard’, but he looked for a meaning beyond it. Unlike Derrida, Heidegger, and Gadamer, Eliot does not rest at at critique of foundational knowledge.1 [my emphasis]
For Derrida…texts are an endless series of ‘traces’ or ‘tracks’; they are traces in the sense of being products of previous traces, and tracks in the sense of moving ‘on the way to’ other traces. If language is like a chessboard, Derrida uses the metaphor of the ‘bottomless chessboard’: there is no underlying ground to support it, and play has no meaning beyond itself…Because the sign is a trace or a mark, it needs to be left intact. But because the sign is a trace in the sense of a track that encourages onward movement, the mark also needs to be erased. It stands both as a fleeting presence, and as that which must be ‘under erasure’. Thus Derrida will write a word, cross it out because it is not accurate, and print both the word and its deletion because, in his judgment, both are necessary.2
- Jain, Manju (2004), T. S. Eliot and American Philosophy: The Harvard Years, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 151.
- Thiselton, Anthony (1992), New Horizons in Hermeneutics, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, p. 108.